Why laughter is the best medicine

27 Nov 2017

Older woman laughingHumour is a free underestimated resource with many benefits older adults can use in their everyday lives to promote their health and wellness.

Research by registered psychologist and Master of Psychology student Ms Sharon Taylor from The University of Queensland’s School of Psychology, investigated humour styles and how humour was used by retirement village residents from Aveo Durack.

“It was great to see participants spontaneously sharing funny jokes and humorous personal experiences,” Ms Taylor said.

“Participants commented that they enjoyed sharing their humour and most had not previously thought much about how humour could be used in their everyday lives or their different styles of humour.

“There were also others in the group who utilised humour to help them cope in difficult times.”

Group participants ranged from being very well both mentally and physically, to others who experienced varying degrees of difficulties and health issues.

Participants included singles, married couples, widows and widowers and friends, who had resided in the village from months to a number of years.

“Humour is an ideal mindful activity, which promotes wellness and self-empowerment in a time when many experiences in older age may be difficult and outside of their control, including health issues, finance issues, death of loved ones and friends and loss of independence,” Ms Taylor said.

“Some key benefits, particularly beneficial for healthy ageing and coping with difficult times, include humour’s ability to improve mental functioning; increase pain tolerances and threshold; decrease depression, loneliness and anger; reduce stress and anxiety; and relax muscles and reduce tension.

“A common concern for older people is they think they can’t enjoy humour in times that they are alone, as many are in their own homes or in aged care facilities.

“However we can all create many opportunities to enjoy humour when alone and sometimes we just need to look for it.

“For example, we can watch a funny movie, write about a funny life experience, or make time for fun activities.”

Ms Taylor said a person’s style of humour and what they find humorous can vary depending on factors such as their personality, age, life and world events, and their current mental state.

“If we can identify their most helpful humour styles, then we can learn how to develop that humour style.

“To become aware of your own sense of humour can help you identify how to most enjoy humour, and how to use it to cope with life’s challenges and darker times.

“Our sense of humour is an often forgotten and undervalued sixth sense that can be utilised to promote health and wellbeing for all ages.

“Just like any muscle, our humour muscle needs to be dusted off and used at times to optimise its potential."

It is anticipated the research will be used to identify practical uses of positive styles of humour in the daily lives of older adults, and assist in identifying potential individual and group humour activities.

The aim is to raise awareness of the impact of humour, and develop evidence based resources readily available to future practitioners and communities working with older adults and individuals themselves.

The research was facilitated by UQ Health Care who manage the Durack Medical Centre which is part of an 'Enhanced Living Program' suite of services that promote healthy lifestyles for Aveo Durack residents.

Media: Ms Sharon Taylor, sharon.taylor1@uq.net.au; Kirsten O’Leary, UQ Health Care Communications, k.oleary@uq.edu.au.

If you would like to support ongoing research in this area, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to the UQ School of Psychology.

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